Albert Simon Barsa, Jr., 1953-2008
April 14, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
As the AS/400 community has been shocked to learn, Al Barsa, one of the strongest if not the strongest proponent of the OS/400 platform, died while attending the COMMON midrange user group meeting that he was also a staunch supporter of. His death came as a shock, and the timing and location were nothing short of ominous.
And ironic. Al was born in New York City, and lived outside of the city in Rye, nearby IBM’s Westchester County stomping grounds, and that means he was destined to have a certain kind of humor that those of us on the East coast probably just think of as normal. Al would have been the first to laugh that he died the day after IBM killed off the AS/400 brand, once and for all. There is no indication of any causality between the two events, of course, but those of us who knew Al even a little–and good heavens, there were a lot of us in the world who can say that–know that he would have gotten a good laugh out of the irony.
For those of you who didn’t know Al, he had a sharp and intelligent sense of humor–his sarcasm was wry, but not biting; laser-intense, but not hot with anger. And Al often pointed the jokes at himself, which is a sign of enlightenment and humility–two rare qualities in human beings as far as I am concerned. “I am short, bald, fat, and ugly,” Al would say as he came on to the telephone or as I ran into him at a meeting like COMMON, and then he would lean in and add, “but I am still pretty smart.” My usual response to this opening was as predictable as a Vaudeville routine. “Well, Al, I am bald and ugly, and not as smart or as rich as you–but at least I am taller.” And then he would laugh and ask me how business was going and what’s the news. We’d talk about meeting downtown in Manhattan for a steak–something we have been saying we would do for a decade and never did. More recently, he would talk about how his son, Albert, had been accepted to his alma mater, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where Al got his bachelor’s and MBA degrees in management, and was following in his footsteps into the computer science field.
Al was a businessman, and he was good at it. I learned from his obituary in The Journal News, which you can read here, that he founded his first corporation at age 14, selling and servicing Sunfish sailboats; he was an avid sailor, it turns out, and a long-time member of the Westchester Country Club. For the past two decades, Al has run the AS/400 consulting and distribution businesses that bear his name, and he managed some of the largest AS/400 accounts in the world. Here’s one to show you how good he was at what he did. In the aftermath of 9/11, he had his Wall Street customers back online ahead of the New York Stock Exchange, which itself broke land-speed records getting its systems back up. Al might have come to the AS/400 party a little later than some of the System/3X crowd, which really got its start in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Al was but a boy, and he might have had some peers of equal caliber, but none was his better when it came to the hardware and software of the AS/400 system.
More than a few times early in my career in the AS/400 market I had picked up my telephone to get chewed out for some of my sloppy thinking by my gruff colleague to the north. But he always treated me with respect, even if he didn’t agree with me, and he had my respect from the first time I ever talked to him. Over the years, I have always made an effort to check in with him about OS/400 and i5/OS releases, and it was unusual in the weeks before COMMON that I was unable to reach him. I was running around in Nashville like the proverbial chicken, and somehow missed running into him at his trade show booth. And now I will never talk to him again.
Like many of us, I had a proprietary feeling about Al–in the good sense of that word, like he is one of ours, one of our best and brightest. Al had passion, and did nothing to hide it. That takes courage. COMMON will not, and cannot, be the same without Al, and the AS/400 business cannot and will not be the same without him.
Al is survived by his wife, Sue, and his two children, Albert and Christina. And he died much too young, plain and simple. All of us still need Al, in so many different ways.